Abusing Our Power

A few months ago on BreakPoint, I talked about the dangerous agenda of the animal rights movement and how most militants -- driven by a naturalistic logic -- place animals and humans on the same moral plane. I acknowledged that, as Christians, we have a moral duty to respect the animal world as God's handiwork. And I quoted Christian author Matthew Scully's new book Dominion in which he says we ought to treat animals with "the mercy of our Maker." A few days later, I got a call from Scully, who is now a speechwriter for President Bush. He heard the commentary and was pleased I had mentioned his book. Then, in the nicest possible way, he told me that he thought many Christians -- including me -- had a tendency to dismiss the topic too lightly. As he notes in his book Dominion, Christians talk about being good stewards -- but what does being a good steward actually mean? In his critique of How Now Shall We Live?, the book I wrote with Nancy Pearcey, Scully correctly notes that we don't give "a single example of how the duty of Christian stewardship [over animals] is being abused or even how it can be abused." As we spoke, I realized that Scully was right. We need to be in the vanguard of protecting animals from abuse because they are part of God's creation. While certainly not morally equivalent to humans, animals nonetheless have certain rights that we must recognize and respect. After the call, I reflected on this, remembering how often earlier generations of Christians led crusades against animal cruelty. St. Francis of Assisi was famous for his passionate concern for animals. In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis calls the suffering of animals "appalling." "Animal pain," he wrote, is "begun by Satan's malice and perpetrated by man's desertion of his post." William Wilberforce, the great abolitionist, took a public stand against cruelty to animals. And Malcolm Muggeridge asked, "How is it possible to look for God and sing His praises while insulting and degrading His creatures?" When it comes to animal welfare today, Christians have allowed the secular world to set the agenda. Their faulty logic -- that humans and animals are morally equivalent -- is exposed when militants raid restaurants to "rescue" lobsters, demand that cockroaches be treated "humanely" on film sets, or compare eating meat to the Holocaust. People like this give the animal rights movement a bad name. And it's partly our fault, because Christians have ignored the debate over animal welfare -- except to criticize radical groups like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But good stewardship means doing more than criticizing. We need to get involved in shaping laws that determine animal treatment. But first we must make it our business to find out how the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle of the earth are treated on factory farms, in research labs, and by commercial fishermen. A good place to start is to read Matt Scully's book Dominion. While you might not agree with everything he says, he does remind us that we have a duty to prevent the needless torment of animals -- torment that, as Lewis observes, is perpetrated when Christians desert their posts. For further reading and information: Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (St. Martin's Press, 2002). Learn more about Matthew Scully and read other articles by him at his website. BreakPoint Commentary No. 030128, "Happy Cows, Unhappy People: The Rise of Animal 'Rights.'" Kathryn Jean Lopez, "Exploring 'Dominion': Matthew Scully on Animals," National Review Online, 3 December 2002. Leonard Foley, O.F.M., "Who Was St. Francis?",
  1. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain(HarperSanFrancisco, 2001).
Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce (NavPress, 2002).


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary